GRM 2010 GRM 2011

Abstract Details

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Oman’s future role as a mediator in the Yemen conflict
Paper Proposal Text :
The historical relationship between Oman and Yemen dates back over one thousand years, with the ancient kingdoms of Sheba and Himyar, the Persian Empire and the Umayyad and Abbasid caliphates all encompassing much of what is now modern Oman and Yemen at some point in time. Roman travellers included both Oman and Yemen into one region named ‘Arabia Felix’ or ‘Happy Arabia’ due to the greenness and fertility of South Arabia. It is widely regarded that the original inhabitants of Oman migrated from Yemen, particularly from Yemen’s eastern region of Hadhramaut. According to Arab folklore, the bursting of the Marib Dam in around 600 A.D. resulted in the mass exodus of tribes from Yemen to Oman. It has been established that trade links existed between what are now Oman and Yemen as early as the 6th Century A.D., particularly the trade of frankincense from Oman’s southern region of Dhofar. In more recent times, the history of Oman and Yemen has been significantly shaped by their relationships with the British, establishing relations with the British East India Company in the 17th and 19th centuries respectively. With Oman and South Yemen falling under varying forms of British jurisdiction, it was their relationships with the British that would come to shape the modern day border between the two states.

In the modern historical relationship of the Sultanate of Oman and Yemen, the Dhofar Rebellion of 1965-1975, and the People’s Democratic Republic of Yemen’s (PDRY) support for the communist-led rebels aiming to overthrow Oman’s Sultanate, played a defining and controversial role. Even with Sultan Qaboos defeating the guerrillas in 1975, with significant British military assistance, diplomatic relations between Oman and South Yemen were not established until reconciliation in 1982 and ambassadors between the two states were not exchanged until 1987. The unification of the PDRY and the Yemen Arab Republic (YAR) of North Yemen to form the Republic of Yemen (from hereon, Yemen) in 1990 ushered in a new chapter in Omani-Yemeni relations leading to the signing of a border agreement between the two states in 1992. When South Yemen declared its independence from the North in 1994, Oman, unlike several of its Gulf Cooperative Council (GCC) counterparts, refused to take sides in the consequent civil war in order to prevent the conflict from spilling over into its territory. This calculated diplomatic stance came to form a defining aspect of Oman’s foreign policy and has echoed into Oman’s role as a mediator in the current conflict in Yemen.

In 2011 Yemen\'s President Ali Abdullah Saleh, facing a popular uprising in the wake of the Arab Spring, agreed to end his 21-year tenure as President of Yemen (33 years including his time as President of the YAR) under the terms of a GCC-brokered transitional agreement known as the Gulf Initiative. Saleh ceded power to Vice President Abdu Rabbu Mansour Hadi, who was elected as President for the transitional period in a one-candidate election, in February 2012. Through a National Dialogue Conference (NDC), supported by the United Nations (UN), President Hadi aimed to guide Yemen through a transformative transitional process that would include decisions on key national issues and the drafting and implementation of a new constitution. However, the Gulf Initiative failed to incorporate key elements of Yemeni society into the decision-making process, such as the Houthis (a Zaydi Shi\'a movement based in Yemen\'s northern Saada province), the Southern Secessionist Movement (from hereon, Hiraak) and Yemen\'s youth who had been the driving force of the popular uprising. The transitional process was hijacked by Yemen\'s old power elites, challenging the legitimacy and popular support of the Gulf Initiative, and an armed struggle broke out in Yemen\'s capital city of Sana\'a in September 2014 when Houthi militias clashed with security forces and forced the resignation of President Hadi and Prime Minister Khaled Bahah.

In March 2015 President Hadi, who had since escaped from house arrest imposed by the Houthis and fled to Aden, made a request to the UN Security Council for intervention by \"all available means\". In response to this request, Saudi Arabia spearheaded a coalition of Arab countries (including Bahrain, Jordan, Kuwait, Morocco, Qatar, Sudan and the UAE) in a military operation known as Decisive Storm to restore Hadi as President of Yemen and defeat the Houthis. Oman is the only member of the GCC not to have joined this military campaign, instead pursuing a role as an active mediator. Oman\'s Foreign Minister Yusuf bin Alawi has stressed the need to reach a lasting political solution to the conflict through peace talks. The conflict in Yemen has taken on a sectarian dimension, due to Iran\'s alleged support for the Houthis, and has become increasingly framed as a proxy war for Middle East hegemony between Iran and Saudi Arabia. Oman\'s strong ties with Iran, both political and economic, as well as its status as a key GCC member, has allowed it to act as a diplomatic bridge between Riyadh and Tehran.

This paper will assess Oman’s role as a mediator in the current Yemen conflict. In doing so it will analyze the contemporary Omani-Yemeni relations and Oman’s foreign policy towards Yemen and the region. The paper will explain the reasons for Oman not taking part in Decisive Storm and how Oman has created a role for mediation and conflict resolution through diplomatic efforts to foster dialogue and ceasefire agreements. Given that negotiations will be instrumental in bringing the fighting to a close, Oman will play a key role in reconciling both positions due to its stance of non-intervention and non-alignment and its relationship with Yemen’s warring factions, the GCC states and Iran who are all a part of the conflict.